By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and Philadelphia Sunday Sun
PHILADELPHIA—Ever since the team released legendary safety Brian Dawkins after the 2008 season, no one playing in the back end of the Birds secondary has struck fear in the hearts of opposing receivers or tight ends.
In bars and social media chat rooms, Eagles fans reminisce about the “good old days” when Dawkins intimidated opposing pass catchers with his physical play. Birds fans still have fond memories of the vicious hit Dawkins leveled on then-Atlanta Falcons tight end Alge Crumpler in the NFC title game.
That was 10 years ago and since Dawkins left the team, opposing receivers have roamed the Eagles secondary without fear of violent retribution from Birds safeties.
With the signing of former New Orleans Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins, who will apparently start at free safety position, the Birds have made a significant improvement on what they’ve had in the last couple of years. He signed a three-year deal reportedly worth $16.25 million, $8.5 million is guaranteed.
If anything else, the six-foot, 204-pound Jenkins comes in with a solid reputation in terms of his work ethic and leadership. He was the Saints team captain on defense for the last two seasons, a position he earned because he was respected by his teammates. From 2009 to 2013, he had 358 total tackles (275 solo), 4.5 sacks, six forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, six interceptions with a pair of touchdowns.
“He has been a productive football player his entire football career, both in New Orleans and at Ohio State,” said Eagles general manager Howie Roseman. “Everything you hear about Malcolm as a person is true. We are excited to add a guy like that to the culture we’ve established here.”
Watching a few snippets of him on film, Jenkins is certainly a better hitter than what the Eagles have had in their secondary for the last five to six years. He can also make plays defending passes.
“We really liked Malcolm’s versatility,” said Eagles head coach Chip Kelly. “He can line up at either safety spot, can come in and make a tackle and can play man-to-man as well.”
Jenkins said he chose to come to the Eagles because he felt the Birds defensive scheme under defensive coordinator Billy Davis was an ideal fit for his abilities as a safety.
“That was one of the big questions. I wanted to know how they were going to use me,” Jenkins said. “They loved the fact that I was versatile. I can go in the slot, I can cover tight ends and blitz. I’m smart enough to take on a lot and be the leader in the back end and get guys lined up, digest the playbook and be the quarterback of the defense.”
Jenkins doesn’t come without issues. The website, Pro Football Focus.com, which tracks football statistics, rated him as the worst safety in the game in 2012. The website also said quarterbacks have posted a 96.3 passer rating against when teams target him in the passing game.
Pro Football Focus also said Jenkins also has a penchant for missing tackles. He has the dubious distinction of being one of three safeties to miss 20 tackles in 2013.
“I can’t really tell you that, but I think I’ve made a bunch of plays, game-changing plays in my career,” Jenkins said when asked about the rating from Pro Football Focus. “I think everybody has something to prove. If you were to ask me one of things I need to improve I would say tackling.
“I think that’s only happened over the last couple of seasons and that has to do with change of scheme and change of positions. I don’t think that’s going to be a problem going forward.”
Jenkins said he’s not the second coming of Brian Dawkins, but believe he’s going to make a splash with what he brings to the table.
“I think what the fans want is that play-making safety-whether it be from a big hit or from interceptions,” Jenkins said. “You want that safety that takes control of the defense, be a leader and make plays.”